Super Fruits: Can One A Day Keep the Doctor Away? (Part 2)

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Last week, we looked at pomegranates and açaí as two of the leading members of the "super fruits" club. Remember that super fruits are touted as being a step above some of the "regular" fruits, such as oranges and apples, in terms of their antioxidant content. Let’s look at a few more this week.

Goji Berries:
Also known as wolfberries, goji berries are native to Tibet and China, where they grow on evergreen shrubs. While eaten fresh in China, they usually are found in dried form (they look like large red raisins) outside the country. Goji berries have been used in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine for liver health, eyesight improvement, and enhanced circulation. Goji berries contain a large amount of antioxidants, and test-tube and animal studies have shown that the fruit extract can slow cancer growth and lower cholesterol and blood glucose levels. However, these results have not yet been confirmed in humans.

Goji berries may interact with anticoagulant drugs like warfarin (brand name Coumadin and others) and increase the risk of bleeding. Dried berries can be found in natural-foods and Chinese markets. Goji berry juice, also found in health-food stores and on the Internet, can cost upwards of $35 for a one-liter bottle.

No stranger to the Internet either, the noni fruit is another darling of marketers. Noni fruit is a green, lumpy-looking, pear-sized fruit that grows in Asia and the Pacific Islands (including Hawaii). People from Asia and the Pacific Islands have long used noni for many medicinal purposes, including treating constipation, asthma, dysentery, and lumbago. The fruit itself doesn’t smell or taste too appealing: Some describe it as tasting like rotten cheese and smelling like vomit(!). Noni was introduced to the United States in the 1990s by a company called Tahitian Noni International, which marketed the fruit as a dietary supplement. Today, noni juice is another type of supplement to hit the market. Companies that sell noni juice use testimonials from people who claim it can treat or cure depression, hemorrhoids, cancer, and even diabetes.

While noni fruit does contain a good amount of phytonutrients and is a good source of fiber, once again, there are relatively few human studies supporting any of its purported health claims. If you have any interest in trying the juice (the fruit itself is tricky to find unless you live in Hawaii), again, be prepared to pay at least $20 for a small bottle. (But save your money if you’re hoping to cure your diabetes with noni).

Mangosteen is a fruit native to Asia and the South Pacific. People in these regions have been using mangosteen, a fruit the size of a peach with a dark purple skin and white flesh that is shaped like a clementine, to treat diarrhea and eczema. Mangosteen contains antioxidants called xanthones, extracted from the rind of the fruit. There’s some evidence that xanthones have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.

Not surprisingly, mangosteen juice has been widely hyped on the Internet and on “infomercials,” primarily by a company called XanGo, although other companies market mangosteen juice, too. According to XanGo, mangosteen juice can improve intestinal health and immune function, can help promote a healthy respiratory system, and can improve cartilage and joint function. However, most of the studies done with mangosteen have not involved humans. In fact, apparently only one study with people was done, back in the early 1900s, looking at how well mangosteen treated dysentery (it did pretty well, actually).

In the meantime, if your taste buds are yearning for a little adventure, be prepared to shell out some cash. Rumor has it that specialty produce stores in New York are selling fresh mangosteen fruits for $45 per pound. Mangosteen juice isn’t much cheaper; one Web site is selling a 33.8-ounce bottle of juice for $22.49.

So, are super fruits really that superior to other fruits? Time will tell. In the meantime, don’t overlook the health benefits of the good old standbys: apples, pears, oranges, blueberries…all of these can help keep you healthy without all the hype and without breaking the bank.

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